Thailand

The Ladies of Ta Khian

Here in Thailand, you’ll see colourful strips of material wrapped around trees all over the country. Legend has it that a female spirit, called Nang Ta Khian, or Lady of Ta Khian, lives in the trees and surrounding areas. The trees are also called Ta Khian  (Hopea odorata) and can grow up to 45 metres in height, so pretty big.

Thailand Folklore and Legends
Bangkok

The spirits, known collectively as Nang Mai (Ladies of the Tree) sometimes appear as beautiful women and people wrap the material around the trunks of the trees in order to keep the spirits happy. Also, Ta Khian trees are sometimes felled for their wood, but people believe that consent from the spirit must be given before the tree is cut down, so a special ceremony is usually carried out.

Thailand Folklore and Legends
Rayong

It’s not only Ta Khian trees that are used for this purpose. In February, I went to Koh Chang on holiday and there were two really tall fig trees, with huge roots, some of which were around 18 inches high, at the bottom of my friends garden, right next to the sea.

Thailand Folklore and Legends
Koh Chang

They were both ceremoniously wrapped. He suggested that I bring my own piece of protection and add to the collection around the tree.

Thailand Folklore and Legends
Koh Chang
Thailand Folklore and Legends
Koh Chang

I don’t really believe in spirits, but I think it’s a nice thing to do (maybe I do believe), but a little piece of me is still there on Koh Chang.

Thailand Folklore and Legends
Koh Chang

 

Bang Poo Nature Reserve

If you’re in Bangkok and fancy a day out head to Bang Poo Nature Reserve. It’s not that far, and it’s great for bird-watching.

Bang Poo Nature Reserve, Bangkok

I went there with a friend in September and, to be honest, it isn’t the most attractive places and, apart from a jetty with a restaurant at the far end, there isn’t much there. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a few hours tramping around the mangroves and pathways. In parts, there are elevated walkways that take you through the mangroves and end with views of the Gulf of Thailand.

There are a fair few species of birds and, although this area may not be an obvious birding location, over a 100 different species have been spotted there.

 

It’s a great day out. Enjoy the birds and the nature 🙂

 

 

 

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Bus Baby

www.talkingthailand.co.uk/busbaby

I have lived in Thailand for a few years now and there have been a few things that have caused me to raise my eyebrows; motorbikes on pavements, family picnics in Tesco’s car park, five people on one motorbike. You know, things that you don’t normally see in your own country. I think the most recent crazy thing I saw tops all of those things.

www.talkingthailand.co.uk/busbaby

One evening, on my way home from work, I couldn’t believe my eyes and I had to look twice but as I got on the bus I could have sworn the driver was holding a baby! There was, dear God, a one year old baby, laughing merrily in the arms of the driver.

I thought to myself, surely he isn’t going to drive with the baby in his arms. How could he? He needs two hands for driving and the baby, being a baby, was doing the opposite of sitting still.

www.talkingthailand.co.uk/busbaby

Thankfully, before he drove off, he placed the baby next to him on the gear box cover. Not in a pram, oh no, on the gear box cover. Thankfully? Not! Not even strapped to anything, the poor mite could have gone flying if the driver had braked suddenly.

I got off at my stop, shaking my head in disbelief. There is not a lot of health and safety regulations, here in Thailand, and now it seems not a lot of common sense either. I am pretty sure that if this happened in the UK someone would say something but no-one says anything here. In fact, this 100% would not happen in the UK. However, it would have been useless for me to say something as the language barrier gets in the way and I would be deemed a crazy foreigner but even the Thais don’t, it’s not in their nature to confront even though they may feel the same as us.

Regardlessly, the baby seemed to be enjoying the ride and I’m sure he lived to gurgle the tale but COME ON!!

Koh Kret and Fresh Market; A Day Out With TakeMeTour

A few weeks ago, I went on a tour to Koh Kret with TakeMeTour, a tour company based in Bangkok. I was met by Chantima at Saphan Taksin pier at 8.30am and we travelled by boat to Nonthaburi Pier.

It’s such a lovely journey from Saphan Taksin to Nonthaburi. There are many wonderful sights along the way; plush hotels, people’s homes, churches, temples, bridges and much more. I am easily pleased whenever I take a trip along the river. You can tell when you are leaving Bangkok because the buildings are replaced with open spaces and green vegetation. It takes just under an hour to reach Nonthaburi.

Upon arrival in Nonthaburi, we walked a short way from the pier to the large fresh market where we wandered passed stalls selling everything you could think of; fresh fruit, vegetables and fresh fish and meat. Also for sale are chicken feet, pig’s head and trotters, and entrails from various animals. When you walk through these places in Thailand it is interesting to see that of the animals they sell and, ultimately cook and eat, all the parts are used.

There are also live animals; eels, frogs, turtles and fish which can be bought and used in a variety of Thai dishes. I saw one of the fish try to escape by flipping itself onto the ground. All to no avail though as it was soon caught and returned to its shallow watery grave to await its fate.

Interesting maybe, but, for me, not that desirable and slightly stomach turning. But you have to remember that this particular market, like a lot of local markets in Thailand, are not meant for tourists. They provide cheap, fresh food for Thai people to use themselves.

From there we took a taxi to Wat Sanam Nuea which is located just by the pier for Koh Kret. We took a small ferry over to the island. Once there, the best way to see Koh Kret is on foot. There is a pathway that goes all the way round the island and a leisurely walk, through local villages, will take you around 1 ½ to 2 hours. There is also a market to browse and buy local Mon pottery, or countless restaurants to sit and have lunch while you gaze out over the river.

I had been to Koh Kret before so I wasn’t really interested in walking around the island, much to my companion’s relief; it was so hot. So we found a nice restaurant by the river to have lunch.

After lunch, we made our way through the Otop market, where we got distracted by a stall selling pot pourri; the beautiful little incense stick sets and handmade candles are a great gift for anyone. In fact, there are lots of beautifully handmade products; soaps, clothes, bags and, of course, local Mon pottery which has been created into an array of different products.

Before I went on the trip I had already decided that I wanted to try my hand at making my own pottery work of art. There are some 20 pottery workshops on the island but the one we went to was near the end of the Otop Market.

Pottery Workshop, Koh Kret

We paid the 100 baht fee and put our names on the list and, while we waited, we watched the professional potter create a pot which, to our amazement, took less than ten minutes. He made it look extremely easy but, then, he has been practising for many years. I used to go to pottery lessons in the past but, even with a little experience, I knew I wasn’t going to be that good at it.

When it was my turn I climbed in behind the potter’s wheel and the guy put the clay on to the wheel and started moulding my creation for me. Then he said “Ok, design.” I thought it looked good as it was and I was nervous to do any more moulding because I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want the thing to collapse in on itself, which is exactly what happened. The top of it came away in my hands but, luckily, the guy was on hand to re-mould it for me.

After a few more minutes I had finished and I had my very own pottery from Koh Kret that I had designed, almost, by myself.

Pottery Workshop, Koh Kret
My finished article!

There isn’t just pottery you can try your hand at. TakeMeTour will arrange cycling around the island or if you fancy a refreshing drink, you can sit and catch your breath with a beer tasting session. They are very flexible to whatever you are interested in doing.

Overall, I had a great day out. My guide, Chantima, looked after me very well. She came to meet me at the agreed meeting point, took me to Koh Kret for lunch and pottery making, and saw me on my way home again. She was helpful and flexible to what I wanted to do during the day. I thoroughly recommend this Koh Kret and Fresh Market Trip with TakemeTour. You will get to see how the locals shop and also visit a beautiful part of the country away from the concrete jungle of Bangkok. If you want to do something authentic and different then this trip is definitely for you.

 

take-me-tour

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Thai Culture Guide

thai-culture-guide

I was invited to write about a new website that proposes to “Understand Thailand and Thai people better.” In order to do that the website offers 49 essential lessons to understand Thai culture.

Sam, who was born in Chiang Mai, obviously knows a lot about Thai culture; he is Thai. He also has many western friends and has spent time in the US so he is aware of the many differences there are between both cultures. Thai Culture Guide was launched in the hope that people can understand each other better, whether that is for daily social interactions if you are on vacation or whether you have decided to make Thailand your home and have a Thai partner and/or friends.

Do you know why Thais love to smile? Or the correct way to wai to greet, say thanks or apologise to someone?

Find out how Thais name themselves or why it’s hard for some Thais to understand English.

You can also learn the more intriguing aspects, such as dealing with Kreng Jai and the dos and don’ts of Thai culture.

Superstitions, the Thai family structure, giving and receiving gifts, dating, lady-boys, and losing face are among the lessons. Everything from the basic to the more in-depth has been covered in this online guide to understanding the culture.

Each lesson includes an explanation of the different aspect of Thai culture and, in most lessons, there is a scenario and possible reactions to that situation. Then each reaction is commented on giving the correct or incorrect way of doing things. Check out Lesson 1 : Smile. At the end of the lessons there are further tips and facts to help with your understanding.

As well as lessons there are interviews that support some of the lessons. In the videos, people are giving their own opinions about subjects such as dating in Thailand and having good manners.

Thai Culture Guide is a new concept and one that is a working progress, so expect more and more lessons to be added. In fact, Sam invites visitors to suggest who he should interview and also to come up with more topics to be included.

As I was going through the lessons I learned a few things that I didn’t know before;

  • When it comes to names, certain alphabet characters are never used for children born on a Monday. It’s considered bad luck.
  • Just as the head is regarded as the highest and most sacred part of the body, books are also classed as high objects, so putting your feet on or sitting on a book is considered impolite.
  • There are different laundry lines for different types of clothes. The highest line is for items that are worn above the waist, such as shirts and blouses. A lower line is used for pants, skirts, sarongs, lingerie, and socks.
  • The thumbs up gesture means a person is angry, not, as it means in the west, a good sign.
  • Saying “Na-kliat na chang” (ugly kid) to the kid makes sure that an evil spirit won’t take the baby away for being too cute or beautiful.
  • It’s bad luck to cut hair on Wednesdays, so most barbers and hairdressers are closed.
  • Thais don’t leave home if they hear a gecko call. It’s bad luck.
  • Giving handkerchiefs as a gift is deemed bad luck; the belief is that it will be used to dry away tears.

The website is simple and easy to navigate and there is lots of information on Thai culture. Whether you check out the lessons one by one or just look at the ones that interest you, you will definitely learn some things that you never knew before. For me, it gave me a better understanding on how Thais think and act and made me think about how I behave in certain situations.

The lessons can be viewed on the Thai Culture Guide website or they can be downloaded as an ebook. Membership costs $19 for the Thai Culture Guide Pro package which gives you access to all 49 lessons.

The Thai culture I find myself living in is so very different from my own and it’s a culture that isn’t always easy to understand, for both parties. But this new and different guide to Thailand is a helpful and useful resource for both newcomers and expats alike.

thai-culture-guide

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is an affiliate link, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase the Thai Culture Guide Pro package. I only recommend products & systems that I use and love myself, so I know you’ll be in good hands.

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Sukhumvit, Soi 11, Bangkok; Short Observations

There are literally hundreds of places in Bangkok where you can go to have fun; dinner, drinks, clubbing, whatever takes your fancy.
I only discovered Soi 11 five years ago. Until then Bangkok, as I knew it, was confined to Khao San Road. A similar environment but the clientele there are younger and there are more backpackers. These days, Soi 11 is one of the places I go to the most, whether that’s out with friends during the evening or to have lunch on my day off.
Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok
Soi 11 is a small, narrow street off Sukhumvit Road and it is filled with all kinds of bars, restaurants, and hotels. So, like Khao San Road, there is always lots of activity going on. If you choose to sit and watch the world pass by­, a pleasant way to spend time in itself­, this is a good spot for it.
Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok
Soi 11 is also home to many different cuisines. You can eat Thai, Indian, Mexican or have a good old full English breakfast. There are many kinds of bars too. An Irish bar, an Australian bar, a jazz bar and wine bars dotted along the street.  Most bars offer happy hours between 4­-8pm which is fabulous in my book. I love a good happy-hour or four! Also, some of the bars have ladies nights, where the ladies can take advantage of the buy one get one free promotions. Sorry guys! Ladies only. 😉 I think they should have a men’s night too, it’s only fair.
One particular day, I decided I was going to put my observation skills to the test. So I sat with my drink and surreptitiously looked around me. I love that word by the way. It was only about 4.00 o’clock in the afternoon so there weren’t many people in the bar; 5 to be exact, not including me. All passing the time of day with a drink of their choice in hand. To my right, there was a couple­ supping their drinks and waiting for their food to arrive. Another customer was alone, drinking his pint of Guinness, as he watched the world go by.
Two guys sitting near the back; one wearing a purple checked shirt, and the other, my observation skills lacking because I didn’t notice what he was wearing or drinking. But I did notice that he was staring at me because I kept looking over to make my observations, not very surreptitiously! So that was the end of that! The things I do to amuse myself. 😉

Climbing The Steps to Wat Saket

Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan, to give it its full name, is located not far from the Democracy Monument, in Pom Prap Sattru Phai district.

I have been to visit this temple with a friend a few years back but I decided I wanted to climb the steps again to see some of Bangkok from above the rooftops. And, let me tell you, the views are quite fabulous.

After paying the 20 baht entrance fee and receiving my ticket from a friendly monk, I began the climb upwards of some 300 steps, passing a couple of water features and rows of bells on the way. It’s not only the views that are fantastic, even the walk up to the top of the mount is beautiful, with gorgeous plants and flowers decorating the way; it really is a little oasis in the middle of all the concrete and chaos of the city below.

Previously known as Wat Sakae, the temple was renamed by King Rama I when Bangkok became the capital of Thailand after Ayutthaya. King Rama III built a chedi inside the temple but it collapsed because the soil could not support the weight. Over the years the collapsed structure got covered in weeds and created, what looked like, a natural hill; which was called Phu Khao Thong- Golden Mountain.

At the top there is a room with Buddha statues representing the days of the week and a central gold-leafed statue.

But it was the rooftop that I was aiming for, so up a few more stairs I went. The golden chedi, which houses a Buddha relic from Sri Lanka, and looking so small from ground level, looms over you majestically. At the four corners, guardian statues stand proudly.

From each side you can enjoy the panoramic views of the city; take in the Democracy Monument and Grand Palace to the west; Rama VIII Bridge to the north; Yaowarat to the south, and Sukhumvit to the east.

It’s worth the trip to Wat Saket, if only for the views.

Opening Hours: 09:00 – 17:00

Location: Between Boriphat Road and Lan Luang Road, off Ratchadamnoen Klang Road

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J J Green

I’ve never really been one for shopping and going to any sort of market, particularly in the evenings. I work in the evenings so any free time I get I like to relax with a glass of wine or two, and the suggestion of going to a night market makes me shudder. However, after a little persuasion from my friends and after much complaining from me, I arrive to said night market and realise that I actually love the place. Enter Jatujak Green Market, or JJ Green for short.

JJ Green, Bangkok

Located near Mo Chit BTS station, it’s easy to get to. Just cross Chatuchak Park and you’re there. Five minutes tops. JJ Green is a small but vibrant place full of stalls selling anything from retro t-shirts and vinyl CDs to vintage artwork and antiques. There are permanent shops, cafes and bars, and local sellers who just take up a space and display their goods in the car park. The items on sale are pretty cheap as well; I bagged myself a denim jacket for 150 baht.

It doesn’t take long to wander around, but the evening doesn’t end there. There are a few cool, hip bars to choose from where you can watch the world go by. It really is a great place to spend an evening. You’ll find yourself getting lost in the buzzing atmosphere.

JJ Green is open from Thursday to Sunday evenings, 5.00pm until midnight, although some of the bars stay open longer at the weekends.

Address: 1 Kamphaeng Phet 3, Chatuchak, Bangkok

Closest MRT: Chatuchak

Closest BTS: Mo Chit

The Art of Staring

When you think of what staring is, you imagine yourself looking at someone, or something, either through amazement or fear, or just pure interest. And it can also be taken as a sign of aggression, of intense concentration or boredom, and of affection.

When someone stares at you, and you catch their eye, you immediately wonder what they are looking at; have you got your slippers on instead of your shoes? Have you got your knickers tucked in your skirt? And at first you look away but you are immediately drawn back to that person to see if they are still looking at you, and they are!

If you stare at someone else-maybe you are people watching-you don’t want them to catch you ogling because they, most of the time, will have the same reaction as yourself. In Western society most people don’t like it, and it can be considered rude. Come on, you can hear yourself “What are they bloody looking at?”

The Art of Staring, Talkingthailand.co.uk

Not so in Thailand. If you travel around Thailand and stay in more rural areas, people WILL stare at you. It is quite disconcerting at first but they mean you no harm. It is simply because the locals are not used to seeing foreigners, especially in places which are not particularly on the tourist trail.

I lived in Surin, in northeast Thailand, for three years and I was stared at everywhere I went- I got used to it after a while but sometimes, just sometimes, I would ask myself quietly “What are you looking at now?” I went shopping at the local supermarket-they stared in my basket to see what I was buying; I went to work each day-they stared at me as I cycled passed; I went jogging in the park-they stared at me as I ran by; I went to the bar alone-they stared as I sat drinking my beer. Oh, they stared!

A few years ago, my mum and auntie came to visit, and, as they walked to meet me at work, a guy on a motor-bike stared at them, taking his eyes off the road. My mum, being the sociable character she is, smiled and waved, nearly causing a road traffic accident when the guy almost fell of his bike. He hadn’t expected her to wave at him.

I remember going to Tesco Lotus and, as I cycled out of the car park, a whole family, six in total, both adults and kids, who had parked themselves in the car park to have a picnic, stared as I cycled off. I had clocked them staring so I reluctantly gave them a huge (false) smile and waved at them (Come on, it’s a bit tedious all this staring.) But it was their reaction, from all six of them, enthusiastically grinning and waving back at me, that made me realise just how much I love this place. Needless to say, the false smile I was wearing became a massive, genuine, grin from ear to ear, and gave me such a feeling of happiness. It really made my day.

Now I am living in Bangkok, the stares don’t happen very often. There are far too many foreigners living here for anybody to take much notice of us. But, if you’re in Thailand, and someone stares at you, don’t worry or be angry about it, be happy that they are intrigued and interested in you, smile back at them and just see what happens. Enjoy the Land of Smiles.